Back when Gov. Cuomo was expecting to need something like 30,000 ventilators, New York got a tip from FEMA about an Silicon Valley engineer who claimed he could procure thousands of ventilators from China. The person in question, Yaron Oren-Pines, had no history of procuring medical equipment from anywhere but the state was desperate so it agreed to this terms and signed an $86 million contract:
Interested buyers had to sign a contract within four hours of receiving a quote and pay the entirety of the order upfront. “Nonnegotiable,” the catalog said. And the engineer, Yaron Oren-Pines, had no apparent background in procuring medical equipment.
Federal officials passed on the vendor’s information to senior officials in New York and, within days, the state struck a deal to buy 1,450 ventilators from Mr. Oren-Pines for $86 million, one of the largest contracts for medical supplies since the outbreak…
In a matter of days, a bank had frozen funds that the state had wired to Mr. Oren-Pines because it found a transaction from his account suspicious. State officials were then warned by Mr. Oren-Pines and his business partners of possible shipping complications and were told that the ventilators might have to be routed through Israel, where they said they had connections.
Before long, Mr. Oren-Pines and his partners began accusing the state of breach of contract. State officials later tried to send inspectors to confirm the stockpile in China; that effort was unsuccessful, and the contract was terminated.
The story from New York officials is that the contract was terminated because by that point they realized they wouldn’t need nearly as many ventilators as they had expected. But the NY Times reports that the pandemic, “may have clouded a decision that placed millions of taxpayer dollars at risk.”
Just over a week ago, Buzzfeed reported that Oren-Pines got the contract after tweeting to President Trump that he could deliver ventilators:
But the Times reports that the deal was moving along before the tweet:
The tweet by Mr. Oren-Pines was reported last week in a BuzzFeed News article that suggested that the Twitter post to the president may have been connected to the New York State contract. Mr. Oren-Pines, however, had been in touch with federal officials days before he posted his sales pitch on Twitter.
There is a federal connection though. The tip to New York about Oren-Pines offer came from FEMA volunteers, a group put together by Jared Kushner. New Jersey received the same referral but thought that Oren-Pines’ non-negotiable up-front payments seemed a little sketchy, so they never placed an order.
Before Oren-Pines’ bank froze his funds he managed to remove $10 million of the total money the state had given him. After the state realized it couldn’t verify the existence of any of the ventilators Oren-Pines claimed were available, they took back $59 million they had paid him (the frozen funds). The remaining $10 million is apparently part of ongoing negotiations.
Oren-Pines refused to speak with the NY Times but his lawyer told them, “They worked tirelessly to begin delivery of the promised ventilators and they would have fulfilled the terms of the contract if the state hadn’t abruptly canceled it before they were able to deliver the first set of 150 ventilators.”